New satellite system could improve Australia's water quality management

The proposal to use satellite data to manage Australia's costal and inland waterbodies is part of the CSIRO's plan to develop and roll out a national quality monitoring system.
Written by Aimee Chanthadavong, Contributor
Image: Getty Images

An analysis carried out by the University of New South Wales (UNSW) Canberra has demonstrated that a new satellite system could potentially improve how Australia's coastal and inland waterbodies are monitored and managed.

The study was carried out on behalf of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) and the SmartSat Cooperative Research Centre (CRC) at the Australian National Concurrent Design Facility (ANCDF). It forms part of the CSIRO's AquaWatch Australia mission, which was established last year to develop and roll out a national water quality monitoring system that could deliver real-time updates, predictive analytics, and forecast warnings to water managers.

According to the Preliminary Concept Study for the Satellite Segment of AquaWatch Australia report [PDF], the satellite system could include a constellation of small Earth observation satellites featuring high-resolution imaging cameras, which can capture precise and detailed data that could be used to detect water body content, plus a network of ground-based sensors.

"We were able to identify a system design that addresses those requirements and is feasible to construct, commission, and operate," ANCDF manager and space systems engineer Denis Naughton said.

"The consolidated technical solution for the operational AquaWatch satellites would require further detailed engineering analyses of the mission."

The analysis added that gathered data from space could provide insight about water quality and natural events including toxic algal blooms, the contamination of drinking water, and excess runoff from irrigation. This is in comparison to existing Earth observation satellites that can only provide 60-70% coverage of Australia's major water bodies.

"The outcomes could lead to a step-change in Australia's national water quality information delivery, supporting decision makers in water agencies, local communities, water utilities, and commercial water users to provide safe drinking water, regulate contamination events, and monitor water quality across primary industry and assist with management of aquaculture farms, reef structures and our coastal environs," SmartSat CRC's CEO Andy Koronios said.

The report will now be used to inform the upcoming Australian Space Agency's Earth Observations from Space Technology Roadmap.

"This preliminary system design report will underpin our approach to establishing the integrated space and ground infrastructure, and inform our analysis of domestic technical capability to build such purpose-designed Earth observation satellites," CSIRO's AquaWatch Australia mission leader Dr Alex Held added.

"This will help drive the development of local advanced manufacturing, support the growth in Earth observation data analysis, modelling and applications."

In other satellite news, Queensland-based Gilmour Space Technologies has signed a series of small satellite launch agreements with Exolaunch, a Berlin-based firm that specialises in rideshare launch and deployment services for small satellites.

Under the agreements, Gilmour will gain access to Exolaunch's small satellite deployment technologies and in-space transportation services, while Exolaunch will have access to Gilmour's low-inclination missions and orbits using Eris, a hybrid launch vehicle developed by Gilmour.

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